The start of the NFL season is upon us this week and with the crazed preseason now over it’s only fair to look at all the teams and divisions.
For this opinion piece I will focus on the NFC. My AFC preview is the next article.
In the NFC East the Super Bowl champion New York Giants look to be in trouble. With the loss of Umenyiora for the season and major questions on the defensive side these Giants barely look to be a playoff contender much less a repeat champion.
Look for the G-men to barely grab second place in the division, barely getting past 9-7, and get in the playoffs as the Wildcard.
Meanwhile their division rivals are gaining ground though the standings should not look much different from last year.
For instance I see Dallas repeating as division champs. Their offense is too good, even without Julius Jones and Terry Glenn, to not blow out teams on a steady basis. Watch out for another big year from T.O and Romo.
Ultimately if Dallas gets lackadaisical, their record could be around 12-4 or 11-5. Otherwise they should enjoy another 13-3 year (if not better) and the role as the NFC’s best team (at least on paper).
Washington should be a solid third place squad. Their defense has only gotten better with the addition of Jason Taylor (though injury-prone). Expect them to grind out victories allowing 10 points or less.
I think Washington can get the other Wild card but like last year will need help. I just don’t see enough of an offense to secure a playoff spot or give them a win in the playoffs.
The odd team out will once again look to be Philadelphia. Mind you McNabb and Westbrook are set to form a vaunted running game again.
However the Eagles receiving core is too young and inexperienced. Another 8-8 record is possible but I see Philly likely to be 7-9.
In the NFC North, Minnesota is a big favourite. Granted Tavaris Jackson has a ways to go as a quarterback but his mobility along with star Adrian Peterson behind him should give defense fits.
The defensive unit is shaky and the passing game needs to improve but I think they can go 9-7, maybe even 10-6, for the division crown.
In second I see the Green Bay Packers. The loss of Favre will throw off the chemistry of the team but the squad remains too well-built to falter much.
They will not be one of the conference’s top teams but they should be right there with the Vikings. Look for the Pack to scramble to 8-8.
A close third will be the Detroit Lions. Kitna may have not much marbles left after taking a plethora of sacks but he should have a bit more protection this time around.
If the passing game keeps scoring at will and the defense can occasionally make plays then the Lions should at least repeat last year’s 7-9 effort if not step up to 8-8.
The Bears should once again be at the bottom. The offense struggles without a steady hand at the helm and the defense is showing cracks over time.
The comical quarterback saga that is Grossman-Orton will doom the Bears to a 6-10 effort. Anything above that would be a surprise.
In the NFC South expect a hotly-contest run for the division crown. I see Tampa Bay and New Orleans going neck and neck until the end.
In Tampa Bay’s case the depth at quarterback is unreal. Anyone of them can step in and do the job. If the running game remains strong plus Galloway and company make plays then the Buccaneers should be a solid club.
I see the squad improving on their record and going 10-6. Credit their schedule against mostly NFC North teams and the Panthers and Falcons for a sure path to the playoffs.
Meanwhile for the Saints it’s all about defense. If their secondary this year does not play like a joke and the defensive ends consistently put pressure up front then they should be okay.
Brees, Bush and the receiving core should be determined to be one of the NFC’s top offenses. Look for a record of at least 9-7 and constant mention in the playoff discussion.
By default, the Panthers should be in third. Granted, they did show flashes of being a good mid-level team last year.
However Steve Smith is an oft-injured malcontent and Julius Peppers is the lone bright spot on defense. An 8-8 record is possible but I see 6-10, if not worse, in their future.
Atlanta should be in last for seasons to come. The loss of Vick has made the offense uninspiring, limited and a weakness.
Ryan is a good character-guy but the offense is wholly unproven. A repeat 4-12 season is likely though I say look for a record anywhere below 5-11.
Lastly the NFC West is a division on the rise. The Seahawks should again be front-runners but a couple squads could be in the playoff discussion.
Seattle is too talented on offense, with Hasselbeck in command of an effective running game. Their defense should be consistent and their record should follow suit at 10-6. Mind you they could do better but their schedule is geared against that.
Arizona did well last year at 8-8 but everyone knows they needed a mid-season push to get there.
I’m not entirely convinced that Warner/Leinart have the offense or the defense to improve. With a tough schedule to boot I’d say they’ll end up 7-9 and just out of contention.
San Francisco is a very athletic team, especially at the receiver position. If Adam Smith can get enough time to give them the ball, good things will happen.
But the 49ers lack the defensive pressure necessary to keep them in a lot of games. Their unforgiving schedule will doom them to a record of at least 6-10.
St. Louis was a sad case last year. With injuries plaguing much of the offense they simply struggled to score points.
Health will be key at the quarterback position. If Bulger and Green can be at the helm throughout then the defense will not work in vain. Still I’d be shocked if they manage four or more wins on the year.
It’s a step to look at the playoffs but for me Dallas, Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Seattle will lead the fray with New York and Washington/New Orleans barely sneaking in.
At the end of the day, in spite of all the changes, I fully expect Dallas to be the team to beat. Only one squad should give the Cowboys fits, but luckily for them, they’re in Boston.